From Andrew Humphrey, CBM
Founder & Co-Chair, NABJ’s Digital Journalism Task Force
Meteorologist & Station Scientist, WDIV-TV | ClickOnDetroit.com
The MIT Enterprise Forum held a fascinating panel discussion about online hyperlocal news at New York Times headquarters in the Big Apple last week. The panel included representatives from The New York Times, Patch.com, AlternativePress.com and Outside.In. All of them were optimistic about their survival as a crucial component of the future of journalism, but most conceded there is a challenge of earning revenue and increasing profits.
The presentations provided insight into how these organizations decide on the geographic locations they cover. Patch.com president Warren Webster (left) said he and his team, including creator, ex-Google executive and now AOL head Tim Armstrong, analyze good old-fashioned U.S. Census data. The distinctive criteria he highlighted were per capita income of an area’s residents and their projected advertising dollars available. The greater the worth of a community, the more likely it would have a journalist dedicated to derive news.
Hyperlocal reporters came from various, yet still limited areas. The New York Times’ Jim Schacter (left) said when it wanted to jump into the super-precise news preparation world, it realized they already had employees who live in the areas it want to cover (e.g., Fort Greene, Clinton Hill). AlternativePress.com founder & chief Michael Shapiro (right) said he partners with local journalism and communications schools where the students are reporters. The New York Times has teamed up with City University of New York, New York University and other colleges & universities.
As for cultivating sources, each of the panelists recognized the value of establishing relationships with local community organizers, businesspersons, politicians, etc. Outside.In’s CEO Mark Josephson was unavailable. In his place, Business Development Vice President Camilla Cho (right) said their company has an computer algorithm that scans social media and breaks down local blogs to find out who the hyperlocale’s hyper-communicators are.
The information in their presentations left me with glaring, nagging questions that I asked. Essentially they were, “Are you concerned about short-changing poor people and poor communities? If Patch’s hyperlocal coverage area is based on how much money it makes, isn’t it automatically cutting out poor areas? Has AltPress considered using students from inner city media programs? Is Outside.in susceptible to the digital divide where those with the most to say may not have the technological resources available at their fingertips because there is no money for schools, libraries or their programs?”
The only panelist with an answer close to but not quite adequate was Patch.com’s Warren Webster who mentioned his corporation’s non-profit arm Patch.org which seeks and makes donations in order to serve communities in need. He expressed his hopes for the fulfillment of news coverage in impoverished areas in the future but could not specify when. After the Q&A session, I was encouraged when approached I Michael Shapiro and Camilla Cho with my specific, successful experiences in Detroit. Their openness and that of the rest of the panel and audience were a sign of hope for the financial profit of existing and soon-to-be hyperlocal news organizations, the informational profit of so-called disadvantaged districts and thus the universal profit of everyone.